British Columbia

New Westminster's Army & Navy reopens as department stores struggle

As department stores across the country close their doors, Army & Navy isn't calling it quits.

Store reopens after a fire closed building for three months

Army & Navy store in New Westminster re-opened after a fire shut it down for three months. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

While department stores across the country close their doors, Army & Navy isn't calling it quits. 

The store's New Westminster, B.C. location reopened on Friday, after a small fire in the upstairs office shut it down for three months. 

"So proud to be re-opening," said Jacqui Cohen, CEO and president of Army & Navy Department Stores. The company also has stores in downtown Vancouver, Langley, B.C., Calgary and Edmonton.

Cohen was on hand at the store opening, which drew loyal customers and long line-ups. She admitted the retail landscape has changed. 

Dark days for department stores

"A hundred per cent, no doubt about it. In today's world, if sales are flat, which is same as last year, then you're doing really well," she said. 

The Army & Navy is the last-family owned department store in Canada. Earlier this week, Sears Canada kicked off its liquidation sales. In recent decades, department stores such as Eaton's, Woodward's, Zellers and Target have closed. 

Retail consultant David Ian Gray and the founder of DIG360 Consulting said Army & Navy is well positioned for today's retail climate.

"They're right in the sweet spot of where retail is right now. It's either really luxury or it's at the discount end, where there are deals and people saving a few bucks on staples," said Gray.

The stores discount prices keep it competitive, say retail analysts. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

While bargains may play a role in its success, Gray said, the company's real estate holdings also play a part. 

"The family owns those buildings, so right away, compared to a lot of other retail, they've eliminated a big expense line in their income statement, so they can operate retail maybe at a lesser level than you would see elsewhere and still make money at it," he said. 

In a 2014 interview with CBC's Gloria Mackarenko, Cohen alluded to being in talks with developers over its downtown Vancouver location.

But on Friday, Cohen said she is committed to retail. 

"Who knows what the future holds for the family and the company, but today the Cohen family is in retail," she said.